The best food to eat when revising (on a budget)
Choosing the right brain food during exam period will help you de-stress, sleep better and keep pennies in your pocket. We've researched the best options!
When you're stuck in the library till late, it's tempting to grab a snack from the vending machine or library cafe to lower your stress levels with a quick sugar injection. However, not only will this burn a great big hole in your pocket, it's not great brain food either.
We've done some research into finding out which are the best foods to eat during times of high stress, and when you need to keep focused for long slogs of time.
It's crazy how much your diet can affect how you function when you've got deadlines approaching – eating the right foods can keep you motivated, healthy, and if you play it smart, comfortably within your weekly budget!
Cheap revision snacks
Fresh veggie sticks
Chop up some carrots, celery, cucumber or any other raw vegetable you fancy. Just make sure they're nice and fresh, making a ‘crunch’ sound when you bite into them (much to the annoyance of those sitting next to you, but who cares – you put up with their crisp munching!).
These sorts of snacks are easy to carry around (you can even just stick them in a plastic food bag) and the process of biting into them actually works as a bit of stress relief in itself.
When you feel the tension building up, don’t get angry at yourself for not revising earlier and spiral into a pit of despair – take it out on a carrot stick!
Nuts are full of good fats and magnesium, which helps keep cortisol (stress) levels low. Like the veggie sticks above, the physical distraction of munching on nuts one by one can work as an edible stress ball whilst giving you loads of useful energy.
An added bonus is that walnuts are particularly good for improving your memory as they're full of omega 3 and polyphenols (also good for stress).
According to a recent study by Columbia University, the smell and taste of coconuts can help return your blood pressure to normal levels during times of stress.
We're not really sure why that is, though. Maybe it's the totally tropical connotations? Grab yourself some coconut pieces or a coconut yoghurt to test out their theory.
Bit of a weird one, but apparently since asparagus is packed full of vitamin B, it's the ideal snack for de-stressing.
It does, however, turn your pee a funny colour, and we're not sure it's that practical a library snack. Worth bearing in mind anyway!
Pretty much all berries are packed with vitamin C which is good for loads of things, particularly reducing stress and keeping your immune system strong.
This is handy during exam period since, as we all know, this is the time when everyone around you starts getting sick (yourself included).
Bananas are amazing for a number of reasons: For a start, they're full of vitamin B-6 which is great for producing happy hormones by boosting the serotonin levels in your body.
Bananas also keep your blood pressure down and regulate your blood sugar levels, which will help prevent the feeling that the world is ending when the days before exam time start closing in. Keep calm and grab a banana!
Watch out though – they do tend to ripen quite quickly! Make sure you store them properly to make them last longer.
They might look a bit weird and wrinkly, but dried fruits are really good for you, as they're full of fibre, iron, potassium and antioxidants.
The only issue is that since they're all shrivelled up to 1/4 the size of a normal piece of fruit, they're easy to over-consume, so watch you stick to set portions!
Oats are really high in magnesium, vitamin B6 and potassium, making them great for combatting anxiety.
Try making your own oatmeal flapjacks at home (with honey or agave syrup in place of sugar) and taking them to uni with you. They're a brilliant, slow-burning energy treat.
Ok, ok, we know dark chocolate isn't exactly a naturally sweet snack, but so much research has shown that dark chocolate is good for you that we had to include it here.
Not only will it satisfy any chocolate cravings you have, but it has also been proven to produce endorphins, increases blood flow to the brain and provides just the right amount of caffeine to give you a kick without making you crash.
Although make sure you go for chocolate that's 70% cocoa and above (none of that sweet, milky stuff) and beware that small quantities are really important here – stick to nibbles!
What to drink when revising
We all know that familiar but indescribable stench that floats around the library during exam period – the unmistakable honk of energy drinks! Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar... whatever your poison, it might 'give you wings' for an hour or so, but you'll come crashing down pretty hard when it wears off.
Research has shown that whilst these drinks – as well as other heavily caffeinated drinks like strong coffee – help you focus in the short term, the benefits wear off pretty quick. It's also really easy to drink too much without realising and this will increase your stress levels massively as your heart starts pumping too fast. If you've ever experienced this before, you'll know the results ain't pretty!
A great alternative drink during study time is to opt for sipping cups of tea instead (this is aside from your 6–8 glasses of water, of course, which are crucial for brain health, but you knew that already didn't you!).
Black tea, green tea and oolong tea are all great options – not only do they contain just the right amount of caffeine to give you a booster, but they also contain theanine which, when combined with the caffeine, works well to improve your focus.
Brain food recipes to help you revise
Fill that empty hole in your stomach with some proper healthy brain-and-body fuel – it'll keep hunger locked up till dinner time.
Be tempted no more by overpriced meal deals, and instead sit there smugly knowing you have a Tupperware brimming with longer-lasting energy, lovingly put together by your own fair hands for a quarter of the price.
We've got some ideas for snacks you can put together for a low cost – the prices of ingredients mentioned below are correct as of November 2019 (using Tesco.com and Sainsburys.co.uk prices as guidelines).
Here are some recipes for cheap revision snacks:
A simple potato salad
You can prepare a simple potato salad for around £0.14 per serving. For four servings, you'll need 400g potatoes (£0.24), a tablespoon of mayonnaise (£0.06), a handful of chopped chives (£0.23) and a teaspoon of mustard (£0.02).
To make the salad, start by boiling some potatoes for around ten minutes, add mayonnaise, a bit of mustard (if you like it), a few freshly chopped chives or spring onions. Crack lots of black pepper on top, et voilà! You have a quick and delicious dish which will slowly release energy throughout your studying.
Try adding some greens to your potatoes for a bit of fibre (and colour!) to the mix. An easy pleaser is to throw a handful of frozen peas in with the boiling potatoes about a minute before they're done.
This could also be your opportunity to add some asparagus if you're up for that extra B6. Just cut off and discard the rough, woody ends and throw them in with the potatoes about two minutes before draining them, then chop and add to the salad.
Chicken pesto salad
For four servings of this salad, you'll need 400g chicken (£2.34), a splash of oil (£0.07), three tablespoons of pesto (£0.90), (£1) and 330g cherry tomatoes (£0.90) – that's about £1.30 per serving.
The night before, cook your chicken in a frying pan using a little bit of oil (you could also just buy a pack of pre-cooked chicken from the supermarket if it's cheap). Add some pesto to the chicken (red pesto goes brilliantly with chicken) and wait for it to cool overnight.
In the morning, add it to a bed of leafy green salad and cherry tomatoes. This will combine the freshness of the salad with protein, which is a slow energy releaser – perfect for keeping you focused for longer periods of time.
For a more filling study snack, these omelette muffins are perfect.
To make four servings, you'll need eight eggs (£0.80), two peppers (£0.60) and 110g cheese (£0.50) – that works out as £2.34 altogether, or £0.59 per serving.
They take about 25 minutes to cook – start by preheating the oven to 180°C, then chop the peppers, grate the cheese and whisk the eggs.
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, pour the mixture into muffin tins and cook for 20–25 minutes. It's as easy as that.
Yoghurt and granola
Whether for breakfast or as a revision snack, granola and yoghurt is a great, healthy option for when you're craving something sweet.
It's super quick to put together, and you can make it for around £0.40 per serving by getting low-fat yoghurt and granola in big enough quantities to make at least four servings.
You can also add any fruit or honey you've got in the kitchen for some extra flavour, while keeping it nutritious.
Avocado on toast with egg
Very millennial, we know. But avocado and eggs on toast cam work out as cheaper than you might expect.
For around £2.34, you can get two avocados, eight slices of wholemeal bread and four eggs, which is enough to make four portions – working out as £0.59 per serving.
Cheese and crackers
A classic combination: cheese and biscuits are ideal as a savoury snack while you're revising.
They're quick to make, and you could make four servings for just under £1, working out as around £0.25 per portion.
If you find yourself glued to your desk all day, cheese and crackers can give you a good excuse to have a short break and stretch your legs – getting up to slice the cheese and arrange it on biscuits takes just enough time to let your mind switch off for a bit, without taking long enough to get in the way of your work.
Soups are an amazing lunch option as you can make a pot at the start of the week and it will last for ages (freeze single portions in old butter tubs and defrost when you need them).
Go for something filling such as sweet potato and carrot, or check out our leftovers soup recipes for more inspo (including one which can be made for as little as £0.15 per serving!). You can take your soup to uni with you in a thermal flask to save money on lunch.
Homemade hummus and carrot sticks
Shop-bought hummus can be pricey – but you'd be surprised how much money you can save by making it at home.
To make four servings worth of hummus, you'll need a 110g chickpeas (£0.58 for a tin), one clove of garlic (£0.02) and one lemon (£0.30). Including four carrots (£0.24), this works out as around £0.20 per serving.
Homemade hummus only takes around 10 minutes to make. You'll need to start by draining the chickpeas, then place them in a blender with garlic and juice of one lemon.
Blitz the ingredients together, season to taste and add more garlic if needed. And, if you fancy adding to the flavour further, you could include some tahini paste or chilli powder.
Chop up the carrots, and the snack's ready to eat.
Celery with cream cheese
Celery with cream cheese is cheap, healthy and super quick to prepare.
You can make four servings for around £0.80 (£0.20 per serving), and you can add in some extra herbs and spices if you have any in the kitchen cupboard.
Think popcorn's just for the cinema? Think again. It also makes a pretty great revision snack.
You can grab a bag of popcorn from Tesco for £1 which is enough for four servings – working out as £0.25 a bowl.
Or, if you can get a bag of microwave popcorn, this not means you get fresh, warm popcorn (yum), but it's also healthier without the added salt and sugar.
Don't forget to check out the other budget-friendly student recipes on our food page. Bon appetite, and good luck!
Our delicious cod and pesto recipe is yet ANOTHER cheap and healthy meal to add to your arsenal.